US urged to slam Saudi crackdown on activists

32 members of Congress call State Department’s response ‘insufficient,’ implore top diplomat to call for immediate release
WASHINGTON: More than 30 members of Congress on Monday urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to unequivocally condemn a recent crackdown on rights activists in Saudi Arabia and call for their “immediate release”.
In a letter, the 32 lawmakers said the State Department’s “mild” response so far to the crackdown, including the detention of rights activist Samar Badawi, is “insufficient” to address Riyadh’s actions. Badawi in 2012 won the department’s International Women of Courage Award.
“We urge you to uphold our nation’s fundamental values and stand with Canada to deploy all diplomatic tools at your disposal to secure the release of Ms. Badawi and all imprisoned human rights advocates,” they said.
The authors were pointing to an ongoing row between Canada and the Kingdom following Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s decision to call on Riyadh to “immediately release” jailed human rights activists.
The kingdom, accusing Freeland of interference in its domestic affairs, instituted punitive measures including a ban on all new trade with Canada, expelling the Canadian ambassador, calling its ambassador home and ordering 16,000 Saudis in college and universities to leave and continue their education elsewhere.
Other countries remained silent – Saudi Arabia is handing out contracts worth hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize the country – as Canada reiterated its pledge to point out persecution of human rights activists wherever they occurred.
The lawmakers, which include Representative Keith Ellison — the first Muslim to enter Congress, “strongly” echoed Canada’s call for Saudi Arabia to release the activists, saying they are “particularly dismayed” by Badawi’s jailing.
“We are dismayed at the economic and diplomatic retaliation leveled by Saudi Arabia at Canada for expressing these concerns and urge the Administration to come to the defense of our NATO ally,” they wrote.–AA

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